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Music

Classical music – a flag-waving farewell to summer and a look ahead to autumn

Claire Jackson looks back on a politically divisive end to summer, and autumn highlights we can all unite in looking foward to including a Glyndebourne tour

As conkers begin to fall and hedgerows fill with blackberries, there is a palpable sense that the new season has got its feet under the table.

In the music world, the end of the summer is marked by the Last Night of the Proms, the grand finale to the BBC’s eight-week concert series. While the Proms as a whole showcases much creative programming – for example, this year included an imaginative concert of experimental music performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra in the Tate Modern (broadcast live on Radio 3 and available to listen to again) – the Last Night continues to feature traditional classics such as Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1 and Parry’s Jerusalem, to which flags are famously waved.

At this year’s event the flags were there as usual – except they created a sea of blue and yellow, rather than blue, red and white. Around 7,000 EU flags had been distributed by Remain supporters as part of a planned, crowdfunded campaign. This significantly overshadowed the same group’s efforts at the 2016 Last Night where roughly 2,500 EU flags were handed out.

Their presence – in addition to the international pennants on display – was hotly debated, as was the choice in music. The BBC was criticised for airbrushing the traditional Rule Britannia! for fear of causing offence. Conversely, organisers were slated for romanticising an ‘Englishness’ that doesn’t really exist. For an event that was not supposed to be political, opinion was clearly divided along left and right lines.

Expressing national identity through music is an age-old phenomenon. Identities can be fluid; that expression changes as cultural taste develops. However, in these highly politicised times, there is increasing pressure on curators to stay neutral. Often, music has been appropriated many years after it was created, such as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, which has been adopted by the EU as ‘their’ anthem. We forget the inclusivity of music at our peril.

For an event that was not supposed to be political, opinion was clearly divided along left and right lines.

The end of the opera festival season heralds the start of some exciting touring productions. Glyndebourne will be hitting the road with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Così fan tutte, and Brett Dean’s new opera Hamlet, which was a one of the big summer successes. And ignore the potentially off-putting image of punters in bow ties scoffing fancy picnics: Glyndebourne productions are world-class, cutting edge – and surprisingly inexpensive. Several of the theatres are also offering pre-performance talks (often free) which are worth exploring.

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The tour includes Canterbury (October 31-November 4); Woking (November 7-11); Norwich (November 14-18); Milton Keynes (November 21-25) and Plymouth (November 28–December 2). Glyndebourne is also screening Le nozze di Figaro at selected cinemas in October and November.

There’s also the opportunity to catch an (as-yet still rare) performance of George Benjamin’s opera Written on Skin, which is being toured by British conductor Oliver Zeffman and the Melos Sinfonia. This concert staging will be showcased in Cambridge (October 19) and London (October 20), before visiting the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

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